On Thursday, March 4, Dawson County officials and community members celebrated the official opening of Fire Station 8 in west Dawson County, with a ribbon-cutting and ceremonial “push-in” of Fire Engine 8 into the station’s new bay.
Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Mandy Power addressed attendees at the ceremony, thanking them for their attendance and for their help in approving the SPLOST VI-funded project.
“Everything that you see around us is evidence of a community that pulls together,” Power said. “Safety is something we can all agree should be at the very top of our priority list no matter what we believe.”
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines also thanked the assembled crowd for coming out to help celebrate the ribbon cutting.
“I’m excited to see so many people here; this is what community is about: coming together to celebrate something that’s positive that’s happening in the community,” Gaines said. “And so really this is your project and this is a benefit to the community.”
According to District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield, the new fire station provides much-needed emergency coverage to the county near Sweetwater Juno Road, which was previously under-covered by the county’s existing fire stations. Because of this, residents near the new fire station can expect to see their insurance payments go down, Satterfield said.
“We’re probably about 98 or 99 percent covered in our county and this had a great deal in covering some of that area that wasn’t covered,” Satterfield said. “When you get that insurance rating and it drops from that 9 or 10 down to that 3, you’re gonna see a big savings.”
In his words to the crowd, Dawson County Fire Chief and EMA Director Danny Thompson detailed the true impact the new station and its quick response time will have on the surrounding area.
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“You’re gonna have faster fire and EMS response time; really at the end of the day it’s about the service we provide,” Thompson said. “For every one minute a fire goes uncontrolled it doubles in size. For every minute that somebody has a sudden cardiac event and you don’t have medical care, 10 percent survivability decreases. So our goal is to continue to get there in a timely, professional manner.”
Dawson County resident Katie Kane was among the citizens who attended the event. Kane lives just down the road from Angela Frady, the Dawson County woman who was badly burned in a mobile home fire in 2020, and Kane said that she has seen the difference a fast response time can make in an emergency situation like Frady’s.
“As good of firefighters as we have, they have to come all the way from town or come from Big Canoe — Angela stood in her front yard for 20 minutes before they got there, and 20 minutes is a long time,” Kane said. “We live in a mobile home and if we have a fire, Station 4 is no better than a garage if there’s nobody in it, so we needed this station really badly.”
After cutting the ribbon, all of the attendees were invited to join in a blessing over the station and its engine and then helped push Fire Engine 8 into its new bay, a tradition that Dawson County Emergency Services does each time a new fire engine is introduced into the community.
Dawson County resident Barbara Roberts is a member of the county’s support firefighters, citizens who do all they can to support the men and women of the Dawson County Fire Department.
Roberts said that getting to attend the ceremony and see how many other citizens came, as well as getting to help push the engine into the bay, was a great experience.
“I was just blown away to see this many people here; it was just so awesome,” Roberts said. “It means this is important to people and I’m really just thrilled that many people came out. And to be able to actually help push the engine in was just very rewarding.”
But not only will the new fire station serve its citizens well; it also features new and improved ways of protecting the firefighters who will be working there. Among these safeguards are several ways to protect the men and women of the fire department from potential cancer-causing agents that could come from fire engine exhaust pipes or from the residue on their clothing after battling a blaze.
“When I started 32 years ago it wasn’t thought of having cancer-causing agents, but now they’re doing these studies with firefighters and firefighters are five and 10 times more likely to develop rare forms of cancer,” Thompson said. “So we wanna try to do everything we can to reduce that employee’s cancer chances out there.”
Each engine in the station’s bay will be connected to a tube that will send the fumes from the diesel engine outside of the station, rather than releasing them into the bay for the firefighters to breathe in. An emergency decontamination shower and special washing machine are also all connected to the bay, allowing firefighters to clean any soot and other contaminants off of themselves and their gear as soon as they get home.
According to Thompson, safety measures even extend to the fire department’s gear room, which serves as a “negative pressure room”, sending any cancer-causing agents that remain on the gear to the outside of the station.
Thompson said that with Station 8 they also upgraded the physical security of the building, installing upgraded locks and key codes on doors to keep the firefighters safe inside during their shifts.
“We just wanna be good stewards of our employees and try to take good care of them in any way we can,” Thompson said.
In addition to the security upgrades, Thompson said that the fire station includes many small ways of making the crew’s living quarters more livable for the 24-hour shifts they will spend there. This includes separate fridges and pantries for each of the three shifts that rotate through, and bunk rooms with bigger lockers, fans, reading lights and USB charging plugs.
According to Thompson, the goal for the new station was to make sure that the public is being served as effectively and quickly as possible, but to also make sure that the firefighters are as comfortable and secure as possible during their long shifts at the station.
“Over the years I can tell you I’ve had a lot of firefighter friends who retire and a year after retirement they die of cancer or some other job-related illness. So I want them to enjoy their retirement; to work a good 25 or 30 years on the job and then be able to enjoy their retirement, family and grandkids,” Thompson said. “These people in uniform aren’t just my employees, they’re my family.”
Thompson said that the new and improved living quarters in the fire station should help to raise the morale of the firefighters working there.
“I’ve lived in fire stations that were older than most of the employees assigned to the fire stations,” Thompson said. “It just helps with morale to have stations that are comfortable, that are user-friendly and that are something they can take pride in.”
The fire station and all of its equipment were funded by SPLOST dollars, according to Thompson.
“Thank you to the citizens, because this happened because you said yes six years ago,” Thompson said. “Everything you see apparatus-wise, the voters said yes at some point — you made the determination that this community needed it and you supported it.”
Fire Station 8 will be staffed beginning on Monday, March 8.